Stress is a ubiquitous aspect of modern life, an almost omnipresent buzzword. Yet, despite its prevalence, the concept of stress is often misunderstood, oversimplified, or deemed an inevitable consequence of the pace of contemporary living.
However, a nuanced understanding of the different types of stress can not only deepen our knowledge about our mental health but also equip us with the means to manage it more effectively. Drawing from robust and up-to-date scientific research, this blog aims to demystify the complex world of stress.
The term 'stress' was first coined in the field of psychology by Hans Selye in the mid-20th century. He defined it as "the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change" (Selye, 1974). Selye’s work revealed that stress could have both positive and negative effects, laying the groundwork for the understanding that not all stress is equal, nor is it universally harmful.
Eustress vs Distress
There are fundamentally two types of stress: eustress and distress. Eustress, often called 'good stress,' is a positive form of stress that can improve performance, motivation, and overall well-being. It typically arises from exciting and enjoyable challenges, like starting a new job, going on a first date, or even riding a roller coaster. Eustress can stimulate growth, spark creativity, and spur us on to meet our goals. It is typically short-term, manageable, and within our coping abilities.
In contrast, distress is the negative form of stress most commonly associated with the term 'stress.' It arises when demands exceed our perceived ability to cope. Distress can be harmful, leading to anxiety, depression, physical illness, and decreased performance (Lazarus, 1966). It is often persistent, feels unpleasant, and may seem insurmountable.
Acute Stress vs Chronic Stress
Another critical dimension in understanding stress is the duration: acute stress versus chronic stress. Acute stress is a short-term response to an immediate threat, often called the 'fight or flight' response. It is an evolutionary adaptation designed to help us escape immediate danger (Cannon, 1932). Acute stress can be part of both eustress (like the adrenaline rush from a roller coaster ride) and distress (like narrowly avoiding a car accident).
Chronic stress, on the other hand, is persistent, ongoing stress. It can be a response to continual pressures, such as a high-stress job or ongoing financial worries. Chronic stress can be very harmful to both mental and physical health. Research has found links between chronic stress and conditions like heart disease, digestive problems, sleep disorders, and mental health problems like depression and anxiety (McEwen, 1998).
Episodic Acute Stress
There's a third category called episodic acute stress, which is essentially frequent bouts of acute stress. People with episodic acute stress often live in a state of chaos and crisis. They are always in a rush, take on too many tasks, and tend to be anxious and irritable. Over time, this type of stress can lead to serious health problems, including migraines, heart disease, and hypertension (Feldman et al., 2002).
Understanding Your Stress
Understanding the different types of stress is the first step in managing it. It can help you recognise what type of stress you're experiencing, why you're experiencing it, and how it's affecting your mental and physical health. Take a moment to reflect on the stresses in your life. Are they eustress or distress? Acute, chronic, or episodic acute stress? Your answers to these questions can guide your stress management strategies.
Managing Your Stress
If you're dealing with eustress, it's about harnessing this positive stress for growth and productivity. However, if you're experiencing distress or chronic stress, stress management becomes crucial.
One effective strategy is mindfulness, which involves paying attention to the present moment without judgement. Mindfulness has been found to reduce stress and improve mental health (Khoury et al., 2015). Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is also a valuable tool in managing stress, helping you to challenge and change maladaptive thought patterns (Hofmann, Asnaani, Vonk, Sawyer, & Fang, 2012).
Physical activity is a potent stress reliever. Research shows that regular exercise can reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety (Childs & de Wit, 2014). A balanced diet, adequate sleep, and a robust social network can also significantly contribute to stress management.
In conclusion, stress is a multifaceted phenomenon that is not uniformly negative. Recognising the different types of stress can help us better understand our experiences, navigate our mental health landscape, and implement effective stress management strategies. If you find yourself struggling with stress, remember, seeking help from a professional is a strength, not a weakness. Through understanding and action, we can transform stress from an ominous buzzword into an aspect of life we are equipped to handle.
Discover a Path Towards Better Mental Health
Navigating life's ups and downs can often feel overwhelming, leading to stress, anxiety, or even feelings of despair. If you're feeling weighed down by emotional turmoil or struggling to find a sense of balance, we're here to help. Our counselling services offer a safe, compassionate, and confidential environment where you can express your feelings freely, explore your concerns, and begin the journey towards healing and personal growth. We believe that everyone has the capacity for change and that therapy can unlock the door to a more fulfilling, happier life.
Unlock Your Potential with Professional Counselling
Our professional counselling services are designed to equip you with the tools and strategies necessary to effectively handle life's challenges. Whether you're grappling with stress, anxiety, depression, or simply seeking a better understanding of yourself and your relationships, we can provide tailored support to meet your unique needs. Using evidence-based approaches such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, we can help you challenge unhelpful cognitive biases and develop healthier ways of thinking.